If you’ve decided to step into the world of craft beer, congratulations and welcome! It can be a bit overwhelming at first, what with all of the language to learn—style of hops? IBU? Ales vs. lagers? Luckily, with a bit of knowledge under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to ordering beers like a pro in no time.
The Four Basics of Beer
The first thing to know is that beer always will contain the four main ingredients: grain, hops, yeast, and water. How do these contribute to beer?
- Grain: The type of grain you use—barley, wheat, rye, corn—can be very important to what kind of beer you’re making. The grain will go through a malting process, which can help determine colour, flavour, and aroma.
- Hops: A key ingredient to any beer is hops. The use of hops can help balance the flavours of your beer. Malt tends to be sweet, so hops help add bitterness to the beer. Hops are grown all over and can help vary in flavour and aroma of the beer.
- Yeast: There are two main types of yeast, ale yeast and lager yeast. Yeast helps eat up the sugars that are produced during the malting process.
- Water: Most of what’s in your beer is water, so the type of water you use is important. Different mineral content will help produce different beers. It’s the reason that a pilsner has a sharp bite, or why certain areas produced only dark beers. The water content can help make or break a beer.
The “Must-Try” Beers to Start
There are a few beers you should know the flavour of and typical characteristics. It’s best to start light and work your way up. Two of the most common are:
- The Pilsner: Crisp, cold, and with a sharp bite, the pilsner is one of the most popular pale lagers. A pilsner is typically straw-coloured and low in alcohol content, but with a hoppy finish.
- The Wheat: A wheat beer means that more than 50% wheat is in the mash when the beer is being brewed. Wheat beers can refer to white ales, hefeweizens, or American wheat ales. Each type of wheat will have its own flavour profile; white ales, for example, will have a banana and coriander aroma, whereas American wheats tend to be more citrusy.
Once you know the flavour profiles of certain beers, this makes it easier to know what kind of beer you’re in the mood for.